It’s been a long time coming

Firstly let me apologise as it has been a while since I sat down to write a blog. I could offer a long list of plausible (and genuine) excuses; suffice to say things have been a little time challenged around here.

My involvement with the Bure between Aylsham and Coltishall started with the Aylsham Navigation and it always comes back to that eventually with me. I cannot get away from the thought of those great wherries carrying their cargoes through tranquil Norfolk countryside and the reminders that still exist of their presence in the landscape. It goes further than that though as the views and places they visited are, on the surface, little changed but are, in fact, very different. The Aylsham Navigation was essentially an industrial waterway in an agricultural setting if you allow that agriculture is in itself an industry. There were maltings, mills, marl pits and more including coal yards, brickworks and boat building. The clues to all this are still there in the records and the landscape if you know how to interpret them. The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust (BNCT) is about ensuring that this history is not lost and that it is accessible to all via footpaths etc. We have plans for interpretation boards to help those walking the navigation to be able to understand the history around them and we believe that this will enhance the pleasure the river brings. We don’t want these to be intrusive and they will only be at strategically important points.

BNCT also campaigns on behalf of the footpaths we currently have and just at the minute they really do need some TLC – we are holding Norfolk County Council to account as it is their responsibility to maintain the paths in a safe condition. We do not see that we should undertake their statutory duties for them as that is what people pay for through their council tax. If the path was properly maintained we would happily enhance it by providing the odd seat here and there as well as the interpretation boards. We give talks to organisations and generally act as a friend to the river and its environs. We have a meeting coming up on the 5th March at Burgh Reading Rooms from 19:30 hours (7.30pm in old money) – why don’t you come along and see if we’re for you. You would be very welcome.

Finally we plan eventually to try and complete the path along the Navigation all the way to Aylsham. Currently it runs from Coltishall and finishes at Burgh. This would be a restoration project as the navigation had a path along its entire length. We see the developments taking place in Aylsham as an opportunity to enhance access at that end but the remaining mile or so will take longer but it will happen.

In the last paragraph I used the R word, restoration and I still see written by people that should know better that we are about returning the river to full navigation. Let me be quite clear – we are not and have no plans to restore the locks to allow this. We do however want to see the evidence of the existing locks maintained in the landscape for future generations some of whom may at some point take the view that they would like to restore. Personally I am a navigator at heart and would love to be able to lock in from the Broads but I am also a realist and I fully appreciate that there is no local appetite for the restoration of the Aylsham Navigation. Were it to be attempted there are some extensive and expensive obstacles; Buxton Lock, for example is completely erased from the landscape and built over. The main difficulty though is at the Aylsham end where the staithe is now a housing estate and the final canal cut has been completely filled in although the natural(ish) Bure obviously still flows.

Buxton Lock during the navigation’s working life circa 1910






At the start of this blog I alluded to the time challenges I have experienced in the last month or so. It looks as though some of them will continue for a period and after much thought I have decided that I can’t burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. Something has to give temporarily until I retire (or at least until the run-up) next year. That something is my interest (remaining un-dimmed) and involvement in a new project to see a phoenix like Norfolk Keel built as the next in class after the sad demise of the last surviving specimen in September 2012. I hope others will carry this forward in the interim but if not I will come back to it with renewed energy and enthusiasm as I approach retirement.

A Norfolk Keel from a David dane painting and used with his permission









Those time challenges also meant that I was unable to get out and photograph the Bure during the recent winter weather so if you were able to and have some shots you are prepared to share please let us know. Anyway for the minute – toodlepip !!